Continuing to look at the journey a boy takes as he transitions into manhood, we stop at phase two in the path described by Robert Bly in his research dissecting Grimm’s fairy tale Iron John. As he details, there is a 5-fold process that a boy takes:
Bonding to and separation from the mother
Bonding to and separation from the father
Arrival of the male mentor
Apprenticeship to a hurricane energy
Marriage to the holy woman or queen
This second step, bonding to and separation from the father, takes a very similar path to the first step, at least in the separation phase. The bonding to the father, however, is much harder. Robert Bly notes that “we often postpone the father bonding until we are fifty or so, and then separation still has to be done.” A large cause of this is the fact that the father is so absent from the life of his son. How, then, can a son bond with his father if he is not there. This post is less for sons and boys trying to become men and more for the men who are absent from their sons lives. Mostly, however, it is a thanks to my father for always being there for me.
I was very blessed in my upbringing. I was raised in a two parent home. My father was far from absent. In fact, while other fathers may have chosen to hit the golf course or stay after work to further their careers into management, my dad came home in the evenings. In my early childhood, he would come home and coach my brother or my soccer teams. The weekends, instead of playing golf, he and my mother chauffeured us to swim meets, soccer games and tournaments, or piano competitions. As I got older, in the morning, he would wake my brother and me up at 5am to take us to swim practice. Then, that evening, he would grade our math (algebra, calculus, and physics) homework and work with us to help us understand it better. If he ever got tired of being my father, I never knew it. I am the man I am today because of the sacrifices my father made for me and I only hope that I can be the father he was for us when I have children.
And, that’s what a dad is supposed to be: a man who is there for his children, both sons and daughters. I’ve cited it before in this blog, that 30% of children will go to bed without fathers. Without that father figure, some will turn inward, some will look out to negative influences.
My first call, then, is to fathers, to be there for your sons. Your legacy isn’t in how many hours you worked or how many promotions you got; it’s in the children who follow after you.
My second call, or offering, is for those boys who are growing up with fathers, whether physically absent or just emotionally so. Seek out a positive father figure. Boys learn how to be men from other men, it’s in our nature. Get involved in your church youth group, in Boy Scouts, in school programs. And mothers, help your son find a positive male figure; he may not be able to make that big of a choice just yet, but hopefully you have the wisdom to do so.
Lastly, boys, and men, there is a Man who you should always look to, whether your father is present or not. Jesus, a Man “who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He Humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:6-8), death for you and me. The Bible details Jesus’ life on earth, and He is the perfect Man. No matter who you have or don’t have, He is an example you can always look to. He loves you, and He died to save you.
Fathers, we need you. Your sons need you. They need to bond with you, and then they need you to let them go, but still be there as a man alongside them or just behind them.
To fathers raising their sons, and to my dad, a man among men,